Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lieberman Torpedoes Health Care Legislation, Progressives Split on the Way Forward

Under the threats from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and at the insistence of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the Senate has dropped the Medicare buy-in provision from the health care legislation.

Lieberman's reversal on his support for such a buy-in has been all over the blogosphere and has cast a shadow on whether he has been acting in good faith or if he is simply trying to stick it to liberals.

It so happens that the New York Times put up an interesting piece that included this (emphasis mine):

Mr. Lieberman had supported the Medicare buy-in proposal in the past — both as the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2000 and in more recent discussions about the health care system. In an interview this year, he reiterated his support for the concept.

But in the interview, Mr. Lieberman said that he grew apprehensive when a formal proposal began to take shape. He said he worried that the program would lead to financial trouble and contribute to the instability of the existing Medicare program.

And he said he was particularly troubled by the overly enthusiastic reaction to the proposal by some liberals, including Representative Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, who champions a fully government-run health care system.

“Congressman Weiner made a comment that Medicare-buy in is better than a public option, it’s the beginning of a road to single-payer,” Mr. Lieberman said. “Jacob Hacker, who’s a Yale professor who is actually the man who created the public option, said, ‘This is a dream. This is better than a public option. This is a giant step.’”

So by Lieberman's own admission, he opposed (at least in part) this piece of the health care legislation because liberals were enthusiastic about it. Did Lieberman not think that liberals would be enthusiastic about such a proposal when he supported it just three months ago? It is ludicrous to think that Lieberman is objecting to this on principled grounds. It is much more likely that his love affair with the insurance industry combined with his vehement disgust toward liberals, has led him to take pause.

The White House, which is more concerned with passing any version of health care legislation regardless of the strength of the public option, naturally urged the Senate Dems to capitulate in order to move the process forward. All of these developments have made the prospect of robust health care reform a bad joke and progressives are expressing their rage not only at Lieberman, but at Emanuel as well. Check out this new ad by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:

With these recent developments, progressives are split on their support for this bill. Howard Dean has come out and voiced his support for killing the Senate version of the bill and going back to the House for reconciliation. Others, like Chris Bowers at OpenLeft, are questioning if progressive support for "killing the bill" will actually backfire and end up helping the Senate legislation pass.

What Lieberman has done with placing himself in a pivotal opposing position on this piece of legislation, is force the hand of the White House to give in to his demands in order to move this process forward. It matters not to the White House how robust the reforms are in this legislation, as long as some kind of reforms get to the President's desk.

There is much talk among progressives over who is going to suffer politically for watering down this legislation in the midterm and 2012 elections. While political consequences have their place in these discussions it should not obscure the fact that the real suffering is going to take place with the ordinary citizen who will continue to get denied health care coverage by their insurance company, who will continue to see premiums rise, and who will continue to incur debt in the absence of affordable coverage. There is something wrong when thousands of people regularly show up for free health care clinics in the so-called "greatest country on Earth" because it is their only affordable option.

Shame on this incessant capitulation to the status quo.

This piece is also posted here.

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